Arafat rebuffs both Europe, his cabinet on salary reforms

Special to World
Thursday, February 19, 2004

RAMALLAH Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has blocked an effort to change a decade-long system of salaries for the more than 40,000 members of the security forces.

PA officials said Arafat has rejected a drive by Finance Minister Salam Fayyad for the payment of salaries directly to police and security officers.

Instead, the PA chairman has ordered that all salaries would be relayed to security chiefs, who in turn would pay their officers.

Arafat's decision came after security commanders warned thaty they would not continue to work for the PA under the new system. The officials said that since the PA was established in 1994 security commanders would routinely siphon off a portion of salaries meant for their forces. The ruling Fatah movement would also receive a percentage of the salaries.

The new system promoted by Fayyad was part of a drive to maintain confidence in the PA by donor nations. The European Union provides about $12 million a month for PA salaries and European parliamentarians have warned that the money would be reduced unless Arafat's regime provides an accounting for the money.

Since 2001, donor nations, which have lobbied for the new system to pay Palestinian police, have reduced funding to the PA by about 50 percent. In the late 1990s, donor nations relayed about $500 million to the PA.

The officials said that for the last six months Fayyad has been blocked from relaying salaries directly to PA police and security officers. On Saturday, the PA Cabinet approved legislation that would relay salaries directly into the bank accounts of PA police and security officers. At that point, Arafat said he would ignore the new bill.

Many police and PA security officers have joined the Fatah-aligned Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade for attacks against Israel to augment their salaries of about $350 a month. Some commanders were said to have been forced to pay salaries to officers who failed to report to duty on the pretext that they participated in anti-Israeli strikes.

Arafat's refusal to pay salaries directly to the security officers has sparked a crisis within the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. Fayyad has threatened to resign and Qurei has demanded that Arafat allow the finance minister to institute new regulations regarding salaries to public sector workers. Officials said Qurei has not threatened to resign.

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